City shifts blame to residents … again


City officials sure have revised local history by distorting their role in the escarpment program more than 30 years ago.

The territory transferred the escarpment lands to the city in the mid-1990s, more than 20 years after the escarpment relocation plan was initiated. So it’s a stretch to think that, back in the 1970s, the city was using its own limited funds for the program when the lands were the responsibility of another government.

The city took the lead in identifying the risk and mapping the escarpment zone? Hardly. More accurately, it was part of the problem.

The escarpment vegetation was stripped following the war, and developments, like an access road that traversed the escarpment and outbuildings for the airport located on the edge of it, led to very real potential for a tragic event. Federal engineers wrote a series of technical reports detailing the problems, but for decades only the airport authority responded to their recommendations.

The engineers were distressed to note that, nearly 20 years after they began to bring attention to the “Escarpment problem,” Whitehorse continued to approve commercial leases against the escarpment, and residential development continued to expand in the area.

The federal and territorial governments finally began to make progress on implementing the recommendations of the escarpment plan. But it may have only been after a child died on the clay cliffs, and a residence on Wood Street was hit by a mudslide, that the warnings hit home locally.

That city officials are once again saying the escarpment can handle development and they’re trivializing the danger that existed is just another trip back to the future.

If there hasn’t been a mudslide in the escarpment zone in decades, that’s because measures were finally taken to remove and restrict development, so that slopes could stabilize, and vegetation could regenerate, and come closer in reality to federal engineer Robert F. Legget’s vision of the “great slope (becoming) a wonderful natural backdrop to the city of Whitehorse, worthy of the capital of the Yukon territory…”.

The federal government did recognize, as city planners and mayor and city council refuse to, that an Official Community Plan is a significant policy document, and advised the city to establish OCP policies for adequate land-use controls in the escarpment zone.

I’m curious about the Escarpment Land Acquisition program funds. It’s almost certain that the program was funded by the federal government originally. Chances are the funds were specific to the purpose, and regardless of Dave Stockdale’s born-again fiscal prudence, they couldn’t be used for anything else.

But maybe they were transferred to the city, and the city put them into general revenue, like the long-gone parkade funds, so that now mayor and council feel entitled to treat the funds as discretionary, and to launch yet another gratuitous attack on the motives of a citizen.

Marianne Darragh


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